JP Morgan to eurozone periphery: “Get rid of your pinko, anti-fascist constitutions”

Blog post originally appeared on my Austerityland blog hosted at the EUobserver, on 7 June, 2013. 

At times, I do marvel how antiseptic, bland even, that the language of the most wretchedly villainous documents can be.

Last week, the European economic research team with JP Morgan, the global financial giant, put out a 16-page paper on the state of play of euro area adjustment. This involved a totting up of what work has been done so far and what work has yet to be done in terms of sovereign, household and bank deleveraging; structural reform (reducing labour costs, making it easier to fire workers, privatisation, deregulation, liberalising ‘protected’ industries, etc.); and national political reform.

The takeaway in the small amount of coverage that I’ve seen of the paper was that its authors say the eurozone is about halfway through its period of adjustment, so austerity is still likely to be a feature of the landscape “for a very extended period.”

The bankers’ analysis probably otherwise received little attention because it is a bit ‘dog bites man‘: Big Bank Predicts Many More Years of Austerity. It’s not really as if anyone was expecting austerity to disappear any time soon, however much EU-IMF programme countries have been offered a relaxation of debt reduction commitments in return for ramping up the pace of structural adjustment.

The lack of coverage is a bit of a shame, because it’s the first public document I’ve come across where the authors are frank that the problem is not just a question of fiscal rectitude and boosting competitiveness, but that there is also an excess of democracy in some European countries that needs to be trimmed. Continue reading →

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Kick ‘em all out? Anti-politics and post-democracy in the European Union

A paper I wrote for the journal of Statewatch, the EU civil liberties watchdog. It can be downloaded in full from the Statewatch website (pages 9-20).

One of the more cringeworthy moments of the last few years of sometimes ideological, sometimes street-fighting – but rarely parliamentary – combat between the European superintendents of austerity and their subjects came in October 2012 upon the occasion of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Athens. Two Greek protesters had dressed themselves up in Nazi regalia, rode through the streets as if conquering soldiers in imitation of so many wartime newsreels, and burnt a flag emblazoned with a Swastika as a piece of radical theatre mocking the Berlin-led imposition of cuts and structural reforms. Continue reading →

Greece: “A promise from the army has been obtained to not intervene against a civil uprising”

Interview with former Greek ambassador was published in the New Statesman on 24 February, 2013.

It is always enlightening to hear the frank assessment of a diplomat upon leaving the service, once unshackled from “the patriotic art of lying for one’s country”, as 19th Century American journalist Ambrose Bierce described the craft.

Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos was a career diplomat with the Greek foreign ministry. As a junior officer with the service in the 1970s, he helped assure the then freshly democratic nation’s accession to the European Union (at the time the EEC). He was at different times Athens’ ambassador to Poland, Albania and Canada, and finally the director general of EU Affairs in the ministry.

Last year, he finally resigned as secretary general of the Black Sea Cooperation organisation, and entered the private sector, and now feels free to speak openly about his fury at what he says Europe and international lenders are doing to his country.

“At a certain moment, quite soon, there will be an explosion of social unrest. It will be very unpleasant,” he says, referring to 15 armed incidents in the previous ten days. Continue reading →

Ex-ECB chief: ‘If parliaments do not give us what we want, we will annul them’

Article originally published in Red Pepper on 21 May, 2012

If there is anyone left doubting that the struggle against austerity is fundamentally a struggle for democracy, the chilling proposal of former European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet on how to solve the eurocrisis unveiled on Thursday, should quickly put paid to such overly microscopic focus.

Trichet has proposed what he calls ‘federation by exception,’ whereby if a country’s leaders or parliament ‘cannot implement sound budgetary policies,’ that country will be ‘taken into receivership’.

Recognising that it would not be possible in the timescale necessary to respond to the crisis to deliver a fully-fledged United States of Europe with the associated political and fiscal union, including fiscal transfers and common debt issuance, the former ECB president, who left office last November, said this ‘next step’ can at least be taken.  Continue reading →

The EU’s ‘techno party’ is hollowing out democracy

Opinion piece originally published in the EUobserver on 30.11.11.

Not everybody’s into techno music. Some folks are a little bit country; others a little bit rock and roll.

But under what one Brussels wag recently called the EU’s ‘techno-party’ strategy – replacing elected representatives with technocrats and an end to consideration of fiscal policies by parliaments in favour of fiat by civil-servant ‘experts’ – nobody has any choice any more about what kind of music they want to listen to.

Economic policies will be decided for them, by the experts, by, if you will, those bangin’ bureaucrat and banker DJs in Brussels and Frankfurt.

Fiscal policy, like monetary policy, is simply too important for it to be ‘politicised’, the argument goes. The eurozone cataclysm is so serious that we no longer have time for “political games”, as European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso put it last Monday (21 November), speaking alongside Greece’s new unelected leader, ex-European-Central-Bank (ECB) man Lucas Papademos. Continue reading →

‘New system of European governance’ demands deeper austerity

News article on the EU’s ‘European Semester’ originally published in the EUobserver on 09.06.11.

The European taskmaster has cracked the whip. However much austerity has been imposed by EU member states, it is simply not enough.

That is the overriding message from the European Commission that runs through its recommendations for each of the 27 member states in the new, post-crisis system of radically centralised oversight and correction of national economic policies by the EU known as the ‘European Semester’.

“We are now implementing the new system of European governance,” commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, heralding the unveiling of 27 detailed – or ‘granular’, to use the adjective EU officials use – national prescriptions, telling member states what they are getting right and wrong with their fiscal policies and what they must do to ‘fix’ their economies. Continue reading →

Working the night-shift in the German austerity sweatshop – Part IV: The end of the eurozone

Analysis originally published in the EUobserver 13.12.10

But if what needs to happen cannot happen, what does Lord Skidelsky, a 71-year-old economic historian who has been witness to the full fifty years of European integration, think will?

“I don’t think immediately, but the most likely outcome is that some countries will have to devalue, which means leaving the eurozone. Germany’s domestic policy doesn’t allow any other option.”

“What I don’t know is whether the initial thrust for this will come from a Germany where people are fed up with bail-outs or from the peripheral states where people are fed up with continuous austerity.” Continue reading →